Words by Allison Paige | Photos by Myriam Babin & François Gagné
A family home celebrates five generations in York.
Builder: Period Design Restoration, Architect: Gordon Wallace Associates, Architects, Interior Designer: Banks Design Associates, Landscape Architect: Jacquelyn Nooney Landscape Inc., Tile: Distinctive Tile & Design
The view from Will and Debby Ethridge’s home in York is timeless: the craggy coast and expansive blue of York Harbor unhindered, clear out to the Isles of Shoals. It is the same view Childe Hassam, the American impressionist painter, captured so faithfully throughout his career. Of the boundless scenery, Hassam once wrote, “The rocks and the sea are the few things that do not change.”
Will Ethridge would surely agree. Over the years, this indelible seascape, one his family has enjoyed going on five generations, has changed little. Although Will grew up in Boston and Greenwich, Connecticut, he spent every summer at his grandmother’s summer home in York.
His grandmother owned Seaward, one of the august Gilded Age summer homes built overlooking the harbor at the turn of the 20th century. Every summer, she and her family swapped the swelter of Boston for the cool Maine breezes. Since the 1930s, just a couple of decades short of a century, Will’s family has summered on this bluff. He and his two brothers passed their childhood vacations exploring the rocky seaside, sailing, waterskiing, and diving into the chilly surf for hours.
He points out the window to the beach below. “There was something called the Black Rocks off our property, and it was a rite of passage when you got strong enough to swim to the Black Rocks and back. For a kid it was pretty much paradise,” says Will. “I had a bunch of friends who lived here on the cliff path and they’re friends to this day.”
Another neighboring family had three boys as well, and the pack of them reconvened every summer. It was an extension of a friendship that began in his grandmother’s youth—three generations of continued camaraderie. “We knew each other before we even had consciousness, little babies in baby carriages,” Will says, laughing at the thought.
Will and Debby bought a nearby cottage that they enjoyed seasonally, but Will knew that when he retired, he wanted to live in York for good. In 2012, a house came up for sale on a very familiar spot. Remarkably, it was built on the site of a neighbor’s pool house where local families were invited to enjoy the Olympic-size pool. Will remembers swimming there with his brothers. When the house went on the market, Will bought it. It was an opportunity too rare to pass up—a chance to return to the landscape of his youth.
Debby and Will recall being in the house shortly after they had closed. It was Memorial Day, and they arrived to find the house enveloped, the entire shimmering vista engulfed in spring fog. “We went out back and you could not see anything. And I said, ‘Well, so much for the million-dollar view!’” Debby exclaims. “But Will will tell you, it didn’t make any difference to him.”
“You couldn’t literally see a thing,” Will agrees. “And yet, I could hear the waves hitting the rocks and then going out as they pulled the little pebbles and stones out, and it was like going back to my childhood.”
The house underwent an extensive renovation: adding a wing and second story and a revision of the original interior. Architect Gordon Wallace of Gordon Wallace Associates, Architects, and contractor Brian Sleeper of Period Design Restoration, both of York, were hired to remodel the 1980s-era building into a generously proportioned 5,836-square-foot shingle-sided home that blends harmoniously with the historic homes around it.
The original wing contains the updated master suite, living room, and dining room, and the added wing has a den and four bedrooms and baths to accommodate their grown children and guests. An attic became an open walkway overlooking the gracious kitchen, joining the two wings and offering an elevated glimpse of the harbor.
“We wanted a lot of sea air and views from every bedroom,” explains Will.
Linda Banks of Banks Design Associates in Falmouth helmed the interior architecture and design. “We trusted her taste completely,” notes Debby.
“They got one of my quintessential kitchen layouts, a great view, separate symmetrical stations for cooking, cleanup, and prep,” notes Banks. “The two-story space created a wonderful link between the original house and the new guest wing.”
“She has an incredible eye,” Will says of Banks. “An incredible sense of color.”
The cool blue tones used throughout the home reflect ocean hues. Likewise, graceful touches such as the undulant molding along the staircase recall the curling waves just outside. The grandchildren’s bunk room resembles a “nautical playhouse” and “has the feeling of an outside deck on an ocean liner,” says Banks. “We used cleats for the doorknobs and porthole mirrors below the bulkhead wall sconces. The en suite bath has a map of their harbor pasted to the door of the medicine cabinet [a notion suggested by Banks and completed by Debby]. It’s such a great feeling when a client embraces our sense of style and whimsy and gives us the freedom to express our interpretation of their dreams, lifestyle, and humor.”
The Ethridges incorporated a meaningful art collection, most notably, the elegant portrait of Helen McIntyre, Will’s grandmother, painted by Cecil Clark Davis, that graces a dining room wall. Reminders of her appear throughout the house, from an antique secretary to the curtains of Swiss tambour lace that once hung in Seaward’s windows. “It’s like coming home again,” Will says.
Will Ethridge Jr. and Elizabeth Ethridge McGann, Will and Debby’s son and daughter, soon followed suit, moving from Boston and Portland, respectively, with their own young families to live in York year-round just minutes from their parents’ home. Debby points out that for an intrepid kayaker, it’s just a quick trip downriver.
The downstairs guest bedroom is now a playroom, and on the wall is a circa-1975 photo of Harbor Beach that Debby had made into a mural. On it, she pasted family snapshots, creating a collage of memories. You can spy not only the original site of the Ethridges’ present-day house but also Seaward, Will’s grandmother’s home, and Helen herself, looking glamorous in a pair of cat-eye sunglasses. In addition, there’s a picture of Will’s younger brother on the high dive of the property’s original pool, Will as a boy, and the newest family additions, the Ethridges’ young grandchildren, playing in the surf.
Says Banks, “The Ethridges trusted us to detail and tailor each space to all three generations for year-round enjoyment in the years ahead. This was the legacy they re-created, as we created a warm, soulful place for all of them. The best part is knowing how much they all love spending time there together.”
Thinking back to that fateful first night in their new home—when the harbor was shrouded in fog—Will recalls hearing the age-old sound of the ocean rolling in and out. “The serotonin just went right through my body. I can’t describe it. It was like I was 5 years old. It was so deep and just felt so connected to nature and the living spirit of everything around. I remember going to bed that night and saying, ‘We have made the right decision.’”